Category Archives: General Safety

Prioritizing Safety This Holiday Travel Season

By Stephanie Shaw, Acting Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

This week, families and friends will gather to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. According to estimates from AAA, nearly 55 million people will travel away from home this year, with about 49 million of them taking to the roads.

As we mark the beginning of the holiday travel season, we want to ensure that everyone arrives safely at their destinations. Unfortunately, travel on our roads can be the riskiest mode of travel during the holiday season.

NTSB investigations continue to highlight actions needed by regulators, legislators, and industry to ensure the safest transportation system for the traveling public. Our Most Wanted List (MWL) identifies specific transportation safety improvements needed across all modes. It includes five road safety improvements that address pervasive problems like speeding, alcohol and other drug impairment, and distraction. The MWL also calls for collision-avoidance and connected vehicle technologies and implementation of a Safe System Approach to better protect all road users.

At the NTSB, we believe that safety is a shared responsibility, so for the traveling public, we’ve highlighted some ways you can keep yourself and others safe, regardless of the travel mode you choose.

By Car

Impairment by alcohol and other drugs, unsafe speeds, fatigue, and distraction continue to play major roles in crashes. Here’s what you can do:

  • Designate a sober driver, or call a taxi, or ridesharing service if your holiday celebrations involve alcohol or other impairing drugs.
  • Follow safe speeds. In bad weather, safe speeds are often below the designated speed limit. Speeding increases the chance of being involved in a crash and intensifies the severity of crash injuries.
  • Make sure you’re well rested! A fatigued driver is just as dangerous as one impaired by alcohol or other drugs.
  • Avoid distractions. Don’t take or make calls or text while driving, even using a hands-free device. Set your navigation system before you start driving. If you’re traveling with others, ask them to navigate.
  • Make sure to use the correct safety restraint for child passengers, and be sure it’s installed correctly.
  • Ensure you and all your passengers are buckled up! In a crash, seat belts (and proper child restraints) are your best protection against death and serious injuries.

By Bus

The NTSB has made recommendations to improve motorcoach operations and vehicle crashworthiness, but travelers should know what to do in an emergency.

  • Pay attention to safety briefings and know where the nearest emergency exit is. If it’s a window or roof hatch, make sure you know how to use it.
  • Ask your driver to give you a safety briefing if you’re unsure of where the exits are or how to use them.
  • Use your seat belt when they’re available!

By Plane or Boat

These tips can help you and your loved ones in an emergency on planes or vessels.

  • Pay close attention to the safety briefing! Airline and marine accidents have become very rare, but you and your family can be safer by being prepared.
  • Know where to find the nearest emergency exit and flotation device whether you’re on an airplane or a boat.
  • Confirm that you and your traveling companions—even children under age 2—have your own seats and are buckled up when flying.
  • Don’t forget your child’s car seat. The label will usually tell you if your child car seat is certified for airplane use; the owner’s manual always has this information.
  • Call the airline and ask what the rules are for using a child’s car seat on your flight, if you don’t already know.
  • Follow crewmember instructions and remain calm in an emergency.

By Train

The NTSB has made recommendations to improve passenger rail operations and vehicle crashworthiness, but travelers should also follow these safety tips.

  • Stow carry-ons in the locations provided (overhead and racks). Don’t block aisles.
  • Review your trains safety information which may be provided as a safety card in your seat pocket or displayed in your railcar.
  • Follow crewmember instructions and remain calm in an emergency.

No matter how you travel, make a commitment to put safety first.

We wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Honor Traffic Victims with Action

By Chair Jennifer Homendy

50 million deaths. Hundreds of millions of injuries.

That’s the worldwide cost of traffic violence, in human terms. It’s difficult to comprehend fully, which is why the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims is so meaningful.

This annual observance provides a time to reflect on the real people behind the statistics: mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, colleagues, best friends, and neighbors.

It’s a time to support those who’ve lost a loved one to the public health crisis on our roads.

And it’s a time to act, starting with NTSB recommendations.

Lessons from Tragedy

Since last year’s World Day of Remembrance, the NTSB has made 26 new recommendations to improve road safety. All remain open.

Where did these recommendations come from? They are the result of rigorous NTSB investigations into devastating crashes, outlined below. Each one is a lesson from tragedy, which is why we don’t rest until a recommendation is implemented.

At the NTSB, we believe the most meaningful thing we can do for victims of traffic violence is to advocate for our safety recommendations.

In other words: we choose to honor the victims with action.

Here are just some of the victims we’re remembering today — along with the recommended safety improvements to best honor their memory. 

Today we remember two people who were killed and seven who were injured in a Belton, SC, crash between an SUV and a bus carrying disabled passengers. The actions we demand on their behalf include the following:

  • Ban nonemergency use of portable electronic devices, like cellphones, for all drivers.  
  • Recruit cellphone manufacturers in the fight against distracted driving; they should automatically disable distracting functions when a vehicle is in motion.
  • Provide annual safety training for people employed to transport wheelchair users.  
  • Develop a side-impact protection standard for new, medium-size buses, regardless of weight — and require compliance.

We should honor the victims of the Pennsylvania Turnpike crash that injured 50 people and killed five others — including a nine-year-old child — by taking the following actions:

  • Develop performance standards for advanced speed-limiting technology, connected-vehicle technology, and collision-avoidance systems — and require their use on new vehicles, as appropriate.
  • Require newly manufactured heavy vehicles to have onboard video event recorders.
  • Deploy connected-vehicle technology nationwide.
  • Take a comprehensive approach to eliminate speeding. Among other measures, this means thinking long and hard about the 85th percentile approach and using speed safety cameras, which includes working to remove restrictions against them. 

Here’s what we must do to honor the three people who were killed and the 18 who were injured when a bus overturned in Pala Mesa, California:

  • Require all new buses to meet a roof strength standard.
  • Sponsor research into safe tire tread depths for commercial vehicles.
  • Require seat belt use.

The best way to remember the victims of the Decatur, Tennessee, school bus crash that injured 14 people and killed two people, including a 7-year-old child, is to take the following steps:

  • Make lap-shoulder belts mandatory in new school buses.
  • Require lane-departure prevention systems on heavy vehicles.

And what about the nine people who died in a head-on crash in Avenal, California, on New Year’s Day — seven of whom were children? We must implement the following NTSB recommendations in their memory:

  • Require alcohol-detection systems in all new vehicles to prevent alcohol-impaired driving.
  • Encourage vehicle manufacturers to combat alcohol-impaired driving by accelerating progress on advanced impaired driving prevention technology and finding new ways to use existing technology, like driver monitoring systems.
  • Incentivize vehicle manufacturers and consumers to adopt intelligent speed adaptation (ISA) systems. One way to achieve this is to include ISA in the New Car Assessment Program. Notably, ISA became mandatory in July 2022 for all new models of vehicles introduced in the European Union.
  • Develop a common standard of practice for drug toxicology testing by state officials.

Remember. Support. Act.

Even as we advocate for our safety recommendations, more crashes are occurring daily — which means more investigations. The work continues.

And yet, we cannot let the magnitude of the road safety crisis deter us.

We must keep fighting for zero, which is only possible through a Safe System Approach

We must fight for road users around the world who deserve to be safe.

We must fight for those whose lives are forever changed by traffic violence.

We must fight for those who are no longer here to fight for themselves.

For all these people and more, the NTSB will keep fighting. And so will I.

Teen Driver Safety Week: Keeping The Next Generation Safe on the Roads

By Bryan Delaney, NTSB Safety Advocate

This week is Teen Driver Safety Week, a time dedicated to raising awareness and seeking solutions to prevent teen driving-related deaths and injuries on the road.

The NTSB has long advocated for preventive measures that would address the common factors—distractions, fatigue, impairment, speeding, and lack of seat belt use—contributing to teen driving-related crashes, deaths, and injuries. The NTSB has recommended that states enact robust graduated driver license (GDL) programs that include cell phone, passenger, and nighttime driving restrictions. We’ve also called for collision avoidance and other vehicle safety technologies to be standard on all vehicles. Finally, we encourage adoption of a Safe System Approach to protect all road users from death and serious injury.

On Wednesday, October 19, the NTSB will host a Teen Driver Safety Week webinar focused on effective safety advocacy strategies. The event will bring together youth leaders and traffic safety advocates to discuss four valuable strategies for teen driver safety advocacy, including:

  1. Peer-to-Peer Education
  2. Empowering Parents and Community Members
  3. Connecting Through Digital Media and Technology
  4. Grassroots Advocacy

While we highlight Teen Driver Safety Week in October, we are committed to advocating all year long for needed safety improvements to keep young people safe on the roads.

You can find more information about the webinar and register to attend on our event page.

For more information on this topic, as well as other critical issues impacting safety, see our Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.

Time for Action: Passenger Vessel Safety Can’t Wait

By Chair Jennifer Homendy

Three years ago, I launched with the NTSB Go Team to Santa Barbara, California, to investigate the deadliest U.S. marine accident in decades.

On September 2, 2019, the Conception dive boat caught fire in the early morning hours, burned to the waterline, and sank less than 100 feet from shore. Tragically, the 34 people asleep below deck in the bunkroom — 33 passengers and one crewmember — were trapped. None of them survived. 

A plaque to honor the 34 victims of the Conception dive boat tragedy on September 2, 2019, sits in Santa Barbara Harbor. Photo by Rafael Maldonado, News-Press

The Conception tragedy was my first marine investigation as an NTSB Board member. As I have previously shared, I am forever changed by the time we spent on scene—especially my time speaking with the victims’ families.

Unfortunately, they are not alone. Including the Conception, the NTSB has investigated seven passenger vessel accidents since 1999 that have claimed a total of 86 lives.

Eighty-six lives lost unnecessarily. Eighty-six people who’ve left behind bereaved families and friends.

Enough is enough.

It’s time for meaningful action to improve passenger vessel safety — and it starts with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

Our Marine Safety Partner

The USCG is NTSB’s closest marine safety partner. Our relationship is an outstanding example of government collaboration focused on saving lives and improving safety.

It is no exaggeration to say that we could not carry out our marine safety mandate without the USCG. Every accident we investigate is supported in a variety of ways by the dedicated men and women of the USCG, and my sincere thanks goes out to every one of them.

Many NTSB marine safety recommendations are directed to the USCG because, as the industry’s regulator, they are best positioned to improve safety.

Improving passenger and fishing vessel safety is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements (MWL).

Lessons from Tragedy

There are currently 21 open NTSB recommendations to the USCG focused on improving passenger vessel safety. “Open” status means the recipient of our safety recommendation has not, in the Board’s estimation, sufficiently addressed the safety risk.

That’s 21 unacted-upon opportunities to prevent further passenger vessel tragedies, like the Conception

Every day that an NTSB recommendation lingers as “open” is unacceptable. But, sometimes, we must measure inaction on our recommendations not in days, weeks, months, or even years.  That’s the case with several NTSB recommendations to the USCG.

Here are some of the safety gaps the USCG needs to address — all of which are on the MWL.

Fire Safety

The Conception is a heartbreaking example of the need for rigorous fire safety standards for small passenger vessels.  

We determined the probable cause of the accident was the failure of the operator, Truth Aquatics, to provide effective oversight of its vessel and crewmember operations. The lack of both oversight and adherence to certain safety requirements allowed the fire to grow undetected.

We also found that the lack of a USCG regulatory requirement for smoke detection in all accommodation spaces and inadequate emergency escape arrangements from the vessel’s bunkroom contributed to the undetected growth of the fire and the high loss of life.

As a result of our investigation, we issued 7 new safety recommendations to the USCG and reiterated a prior recommendation calling on the USCG to require safety management systems (SMS) on U.S.‑flag passenger vessels.

The Conception disaster was so compelling that Congress felt our safety recommendations needed to be codified into law. Legislators mandated the USCG implement our recommendations in the Elijah E. Cummings Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The USCG took an important step to carry out this congressional mandate by issuing an interim rule, most of which took effect in March of this year. We look forward to the final rule implementing our recommendations.

Until then, our recommendations from the Conception investigation remain open. 

Safety Management Systems

The second safety issue involves SMS: a comprehensive, documented system to enhance safety. They’re so effective that the NTSB has recommended SMSs in all modes of transportation.

For nearly two decades, we’ve called for SMS on passenger vessels. This call to action is on the MWL, which is our single most important tool to increase awareness of important needed safety improvements.

The first time we issued a marine SMS recommendation was due to the October 15, 2003, ferry accident involving the Andrew J. Barberi. The vessel struck a maintenance pier at the Staten Island Ferry terminal, killing 11 passengers and injuring 70 others. We issued a recommendation to the USCG to “seek legislative authority to require all U.S.-flag ferry operators to implement SMS.”

Congress granted the necessary authority in 2010 — but the Coast Guard still didn’t act.

We then investigated a second accident involving the Andrew J. Barberi. This time, the ferry struck the St. George terminal on May 8, 2010, resulting in three serious injuries and 47 minor injuries.

Between the 2003 and 2010 accidents, the New York City Department of Transportation Ferry Division had implemented an SMS. Based on differences between crew actions in the two accidents, we concluded that the SMS benefitted passenger safety.

But the USCG still didn’t act on our SMS recommendation.

Several more accidents followed — in all of these, we determined an SMS would have either prevented the accident or reduced the number of deaths and injuries:

  • In 2013, the Seastreak Wall Street hit a pier in Manhattan, seriously injuring four passengers; 75 passengers and one deckhand sustained minor injuries.
  • In 2018, a fire aboard the small passenger vessel Island Lady killed one passenger and injured 14 others.
  • In 2019, the Conception tragedy claimed 34 lives.

The USCG initiated steps in January 2021 to implement our SMS recommendation by publishing an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM). In the ANPRM, the Coast Guard discussed that the NTSB “has identified issues associated with failed safety management and oversight as the probable cause or a contributing factor in some of the most serious casualties involving U.S. passenger vessels.”

That was over 18 months ago. We’ve been calling for such a requirement for almost 20 years. We will persist for as long as it takes.

I look forward to working with Admiral Linda Fagan in her new role as Commandant and call on the USCG to prioritize the rulemaking in the weeks and months ahead.

The Work Ahead

When it comes to safety, time is of the essence. That’s why we fight so hard for NTSB recommendations: to improve passenger vessel safety and save lives.

On the third anniversary of the Conception disaster, I’m calling on the USCG to act on the 21 open NTSB passenger vessel recommendations.

Doing so can’t undo past tragedy — but it can prevent similar suffering for other families.

I can think of no better way to honor the memory of the 34 Conception victims, whose loved ones we hold in our hearts today.

Back-to-School Safety: Keeping Children Safe In and Around the School Bus

By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate

Like many parents, I send my daughter to school on a school bus because I know that it’s the safest way for her to get to and from school. In fact, students are 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking the school bus than when traveling by car, even if the bus doesn’t have seat belts.

Although my daughter is safe on her school bus, I know that she could be safer. Like many school buses across the country, my daughter’s bus is not equipped with seat belts; however, lap/shoulder belts, especially when properly worn, provide the highest level of protection for children in the event of a crash.

At the NTSB, we believe that every child needs that added protection, and we recommended that states require that all new school buses be equipped with lap/shoulder belts for all passenger seating positions.

Check out our 2016 school bus safety video featuring the NTSB’s Dr. Kris Poland, who explains compartmentalization, talks about a few of our crash investigations, and discusses the added safety benefit of lap/shoulder belts in school buses.

NTSB School Bus Safety video

Lap/shoulder belts are not the only safety feature that we recommend for improving school bus safety. Unfortunately, our investigations have shown that children need to be better protected outside the school bus, too. Every state has a law making it illegal to pass a school bus that’s stopped to load or unload passengers with its red lights flashing and stop arm extended. Far too many drivers simply choose to ignore the law for their own convenience and put children at risk.

Annually, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services conducts a survey on illegal school bus passings. Data from the most recent survey showed that in a single day, 95,319 drivers passed school buses illegally during the 2018–2019 school year. In 2018, we saw the deadly consequences of such a choice when a pickup truck driver failed to stop for a stopped school bus that had its red warning lights and stop arm activated. The pickup truck struck children crossing the road to board the stopped bus. Our complete highway investigation report, including our recommendations for stop-arm cameras, is available on the investigations page of our website.

To better protect children in and around school buses, we have also recommended that new school buses be equipped with:

To learn more about our school bus crash investigations and safety recommendations, visit our school bus safety web page.

Before setting out for the bus stop, parents should refresh their knowledge of safe school bus practices, and then talk about safety with their children. Children should be reminded to sit facing forward in their seat when the vehicle is in motion, to buckle up if the bus is equipped with seat belts, and to be aware of traffic on the roads when it’s time to step on or off the bus. Drivers must be alert, slow down, obey the school bus laws in their state, and watch for children walking in the street near bus stops and where there are no sidewalks. And, if anyone has concerns about a bus driver’s behavior, they should report it to the school principal or bus company.

Over the next few weeks, nearly 50 million children will head back to school; more than 20 million of them will ride on a school bus. Although there’s much to be done to make school bus transportation even safer, it’s still the safest way for children to get to and from school.